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email me at charliesewingvintage@googlemail.com

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Goodwood Revival

You couldn't get the smile off my face; the sun shone, the racing cars roared, the bands played those 40s tunes, the people laughed and drank champagne under a clear blue sky - and everyone but everyone looked fabulous.

It was the perfect autumn day and we set out from our overnight stay in London at nine and arrived at the gates of Goodwood at 11am. I was planning to wear an outfit of my own creation but in the end with the sun beating down I opted for my Tara Startlet red dress which I bought from Twentieth Century Foxy back in July. I did make my daughter's outfit though in this sweet Laura Ashley strawberry print. My DH looked fabulously Brando and I think we looked rockin' in the end.

Throughout my recent illness I doubted that I would ever be able to make this event, as at times I couldn't venture very far from my home - but yesterday sat on this carousel with my little girl on the horse in front I whirled around under a perfect sky and I thought I was in heaven. It was my fairytale ending...

Everybody made an effort and the 40s, 50s and 60s were well represented. The air was thick with nostalgia and fun but there was just a slight tinge of sadness; John Surtees chocked with emotion as he talked on the screen above the track about the friends he had lost during those dangerous early racing years. WW2 flypast in remembrance of the Battle of Britain during its 70 year anniversary was poignant too. I know those of us interested in vintage are sometimes critised for ignoring the difficult circumstances of the eras we pay tribute to, but for me the fact that women looked damn good and gave a damn about how they looked despite the difficulties and tragedies they faced says an awful lot about their spirit and courage. For me, my admiration for these decades is as much about that as the clothes they wore.

Were you there? What did you wear? What was your day like?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Tailoring a suit

I'm tailoring a woollen suit in a sumptuous grey. I'm determined to get the tailoring correct so that I can use the pattern over and over again. The skirt will be a pencil skirt designed from my block and the jacket is Burda 7757. The jacket is a light grey pure wool and the skirt will be a darker grey woollen mix with a bit of stretch as the skirt will be very fitted.

I'm having the worst time trying to get the toile fitted for the jacket and so far have shortened it above and below the waist by 2" in total and narrowed the shoulder by 5/8". The sleeve head was extremely pouffy and so I've taken out about 3/8" at the apex of the sleeve but this may have meant the sleeve sits slightly forward which I'm not sure about.

If you have any thoughts before I cut into the wool let me know...

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Do you Vogue?

So yesterday I'm sat in the hair salon under a pile of raven black dye and I pick up the August 2010 edition of Vogue, spying an article entitled 'real clothes make a comeback' I read on with interest. And get this ladies: if you have a figure that closely resembles that of a woman and if you like to wear the odd frock you might just have made a fashion comeback. So it's out with pants that make women look as if they are doing bad impressions of MC Hammer, out with metallic leggings that make real women look like spray painted hippos, in fact out with anything any teenager in your house might want to share with you.

In are circle skirts, pencil skirts, boned bodices, nipped in waists, camel cashmere coats, long-legged-wide-legged trousers that flow all the way to the floor, satin blouses... I needn't go on because all you need do, as you are a classy woman who knows a thing or two about dressing (you are reading this blog after all), is go and look inside your wardrobe. Sweetie you're back in vogue (and back in Vogue)!

But do you care - I suspect not! We all know, don't we, the nonsense and frippery of the fashion world and we've been eschewing it for ages. Since I was eight years old I hate being told what to wear! I know what I like, what looks good, how to wear it and better still, damn, I know how to make it.

Apparently, this latest trend looks set to stay - hmmmmm. In some ways I hope not because now I'm going to have to work really hard to make sure my personal signature style doesn't make me look like a fashion victim. Sigh....

Over to you, what's your view?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A fight to the death with the dog

I've been poorly - a serious and difficult case of the black dog. And I lost my blogging mojo - well I lost my everything mojo to be honest. It's been a very difficult few weeks but thank God I'm through it now. So just to prove I'm back on track here I am working on tea dress number 2. Thanks for bearing with me...

Monday, 12 July 2010

Waspy Waist & Circle Skirt

What could be more 50s than a big poofy circle skirt. I designed and drafted this myself but those of you in the know will know (of course) that that is not as impressive as it sounds. For those of you not in the know this is simple geometry: take your waist measurement and divide by 6.28; this gets you the radius of the inner  circle of your skirt and from this you can draft a pattern. If you want to give this a go there's a great tutorial on Ruffles and Roses although I would urge caution with the instruction to measure your waist and then -4. I did this and ended up with a skirt I can only wear with a waist cincher and if I do another I won't deduct the 4 inches - the explanation on R and R is that this accounts for stretching of the fabric on the bias at the waistband. I staystitched the waistband to eliminate this problem but ended up with a waspy waist!

The photographs don't do this fabric any justice at all. The is a deep purple with a lime green dot and it's fabulous!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

So pleased

If you've been reading this blog for the last few weeks you'll know that I've been attending night school to learn how to design and draft patterns for myself. In the first few weeks I designed this:

So tonight after many weeks of drawing endless amounts of seam allowances I give you:

So let me tell you that I am really very chuffed to bits with this. For starters it fits like a glove - no really it does. And secondly it looks like I envisaged it and thirdly it has a beautiful dusky pink satin lining too - I know, I know it's very remiss of me to not show it but I forgot to photograph it so you'll just have to take my word for it.

As a fitting finale to the course my wonderful tutor Maria arranged for a night out for all her students in our finished garments. What a well-dressed bunch we were too! Having been quite ill this week and last I was still covering the buttons a mere two hours before we met up and at that point I realised that I hadn't made a belt (doh!) so I whipped up the belt in a mere twenty minutes with just half an hour left before I had to leave. I think I have issues in respect of leaving everything to the last minute. 

Anyway I think it's good enough for tea on the lawn at four - what do you think darhlinks?

Twentieth Century Foxy

I've been having a difficult time recently so my DH Simon arranged to take me out to a vintage fashion show and burlesque evening on Saturday.

The event was hosted by vintage clothing company Twentieth Century Foxy and featured lines by Stop Staring and Tara Starlet amongst others.

We had a ball. So to appeal to your inner Dita here are some of the pictures it's safe to show you of the fashion show. I'll leave the burlesque stuff to your imagination.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Fashion Know How

I'm coming up for my last class at night school (sob). Apart from the wealth of sewing stuff I've learnt I have to say how much I've enjoyed this class and the friends I have made. I was a late comer to the group and joined them for the third session - they instantly made me feel welcome. It's been such a lovely experience and I've enjoyed every minute of it. Maria is a great tutor and has infinite amounts of patience especially with the amount of moaning I've been doing about seam allowances! Her Fashion Know How courses are a good investment for anyone looking to build their skill in many different areas.

Here we all are hard at work....

Watch this space for my completed tea dress project.

Sunday, 27 June 2010


Phew it's too hot to sew at the moment and yet I'm fast approaching my deadline for my tea dress at night school. Arggghhh so much to do! So to take my mind off impending doom I noticed that I've been tagged by Sassy Lassie. Gosh so many questions - so here goes:

1) What outfit from a movie would you love to re-create? Audrey Hepburn's little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Beautifully fitted and with that back neckline that made it so dramatic.

2) Tell us about your sewing spot/room. What is your favorite thing about it? I blogged about my sewing room a while back. It's a great room to work in; the best part being the light.

3) Where did you learn to sew? Who taught you? My grandmother was a seamstress and she taught me plenty but the place that I really learnt was at school. I had textiles teacher who was a bit of a dragon really and we were so scared of her we just got on and sewed like mad to keep from trouble. I made a draught excluder that was a very elongated cat!

4) If you could have dinner with one person from the past, who would it be? Ohhhh just one?! If I had to choose it would be Queen Elizabeth I. I think her transformation from waif-like princess to majestic ruler was extraordinary given that she lived in the C15th and had all those men to stand up to. She could have just given in and married and handed over all the responsibility to her husband, but she wanted to do things her way. Her tenacity and will power in subjugating her own desires and putting her country first was courageous. She allowed her country to flourish by creating the longest peacetime the country had known allowing scientific and artistic endeavour to replace violence and bloodshed. What a woman.

Oh and Einstein - can I have Einstein too? There's some stuff I need to ask about relativity...

5) What/Who inspires you? My husband. He's got a real passion for style and fashion. In his own work this manifests itself in interior design but he takes the time to buy me books or send me articles/images of retro looks he know will inspire me.

6) What will always make you laugh? Monty Python and seeing my other half laugh; if he laughs I laugh, it's just the way it is...

7) What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Rum and raison. Yum.

8) What is something you would like us to know about you that you have never shared on your blog? I'm a Buddhist and I practice yoga. I live as compassionately and ethically as I know how and I'm striving to be happy each and every day.

That was exhausting. I'm going to have a quiet think about who I'm going to tag and what to ask them...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Going to Goodwood

Motorsport, Horse Racing, Hotel, Golf, Weddings | Goodwood

A little departure from sewing - but for those of you interested in all things vintage visit the Goodwood site above. Ostensibly a motor racing venue this place plays host to some of the most memorable ad eye-catching vintage meets in the UK. Hubby and I have tickets to the Goodwood Revival in September plans are underway for my outfit, for a reminder click here. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it - so much so that I'm so apprehensive about cutting into that taffeta that it's not seen the light of day since March. I must get the whole thing underway! Are you going? Maybe see you there...

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Better late than never

Here's the mandarin top that I should have completed on Saturday in time for my night out with my OH. Oh well better late then never and at least now he'll have to take me out again so that I can wear it. I'm really pleased with this as I've really been a perfectionist in finishing every little detail; for instance this morning whilst admiring my handiwork whilst eating my breakfast I noticed during my second spoonful of muesli that from the distance of across the lounge I could clearly see that the frog fasteners were not equally spaced and indeed after getting the tape measure out I had to move the middle fastener 5mm. Perfectionism is alive and well.

The fabric for this is a heavy weight satin from China. It's beautiful and I don't think the photos here do it justice. However, if you click on the link to my incanto Facebook page there are some pictures there of the garment under construction which were taken at night with the flash and they really capture the lustre of the satin.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, 14 June 2010

My sewing sanctuary

This is my studio. I thought I'd share this with you because this is an important place for me. We recently re-vamped this room so that there's more storage for my material stash, patterns, machines and so on. This room is also the brightest in the house and being entirely made of glass, the light is brilliant. It's freezing in winter though! Oh and it doubles as our dining room so I'm forever putting things away and tidying up.

I'd love to know where you all sew and if you're lucky enough to have a dedicated sewing space.

PS see the beautiful chinese print satin on the table? It'll be an FO to blog about soon!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The story so far

Sorry it's been a while I've been busy making and creating quite a number of things but there's been no time to blog. Plus I lost the charger to my camera and so I've only just managed to photo all that I've been working on. So they'll be a bit of catching up to do on this blog in the next few days so watch this space.

Firstly I've been making progress on the shirt dress that I'm completing at night school. Here's my toile (with just one sleeve - don't ask!) and it does fit perfectly although there's much to be desired aesthetically at this stage I admit. Note in particular the notes I had to make to myself to ensure that I got all the panels in the correct place!

Now about those panels - they've been the bane of my life for the past three weeks. When I opted for this style in consultation with my tutor what she didn't say and I didn't figure out was that in drafting this pattern from my block which has no seam allowances I had to add seam allowances to each edge of five panels. Sounds easy right? Wrong! What a headache. My more sensible classmates had all opted for far more straight forward designs with just a back and front panel sewn together - oh the luxury! Anyway it did put me slightly behind everyone else but I've managed to catch up and I'll be making up the final piece this week ( minus collar as I've yet to draft it!).

I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

tea dresses and tea at four on the lawn...

Dear readers here is the first draft of my vintage inspired tea dress (thanks and credit to my tutor Maria here). It's a very simple shirt dress and I've deliberately kept things simple because I don't suit fussy stuff really and because this will be a tea dress I'm planning on a floral print (more on that later). The design has panels from the shoulder to add height (I'm on 5'3" so I need all the help I can get), you may just be able to see that I was considering a panel from the sleeve (faint line on the left bust) but I hope that you can also see that this doesn't create the illusion of height as the eye isn't led upwards in the same way. The dress will be flared from the hip rather than the waist to slim down the bottom area; I think too much fabric here could just add to the size of my bum, but the flare from the hip will diguise my big hips.

The belt will be wide for maximum waist creation and will be covered in the same fabric as will the buttons. I considered a little puff sleeve but decided against it, again for reasons of simplicity in terms on the lines of the design.

Now fabric. I'm thinking (ahem) Cath Kidston. Let's face it it's a tea dress and it needs a vintage print and who does vintage florals as well as Cath? Consequently, it's going to cost me a small fortune, but hey I designed it surely that deserves a little something extra huh?

So here are my thoughts on fabric: first up there's the rose floral which is very traditional, very English summertime. When I look at this I can hear the clink of china tea cups, feel the soft summer breeze as it wafts across a lush green cricket pitch to the sound of a leather ball on a willow cricket bat and polite clapping from the pavilion. This pattern says 'it's England in the summer and we're taking tea on the lawn at 4pm darhling'.

Number two is still very vintage but not perhaps so bold. To me this an early summer picnic under an oak tree by a sparking stream. It's fresh, it's pretty but it has none of the boldness of the other print. I like it just as much but for different reasons.

Number three will suit those of you with a love of irony: this fabric is called Brittania and depicts British landmarks. On a tea dress it would work so well!

Friends let me know what you think. If I've picqued your interest in all things Kidston do visit her website for more ideas and if I've left you yearning for the English countryside in summertime let me tell you that the sun is fast reaching its zenith, the sky is blue, grass is lush green and so I shall depart for a cucumber sandwich and a pot of tea.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Block and roll

I've been away a while I know! I've had a flooded bathroom and I've started night school both of which have soaked (pardon the pun) up some of my time in recent days. I'll leave the bathroom out of it and focus on the fun stuff namely that I'm back in the classroom (or the studio to be precise). Having completed my first dressmaking course last year I had a good grounding in the basics but lately I've been hankering for something more.

So last Wednesday I found myself with Maria in her studio and the four lovely ladies who are my classmates. We're learning fitting techniques and pattern drafting and cutting. Goodness and I've already learnt so much. Maria has so far taught us to make our basic 'block' which is the most basic fitted, sleeveless shift dress pattern which is fitted to us to within an inch of it's life. You will see here that mine needed quite a lot of work even though this first version was constructed from accurate measurements taken just a couple  of days previously.

Notice that the shoulder seam needed moving forward as it was sitting too far back on the shoulder. This was redrawn and moved by increasing the length of the back and shortening the front by the amount shown here. Additionally I have a very narrow torso and the neck line was way way too wide resulting in the need to increase the darts by the amounts shown by the tucks at the neckline below. I carried out these alterations at my second class on Wednesday and I now have a very well fitted block. Having translated these adjustments onto paper I've taken off the seam allowances and voila I have the basic pattern perfectly fitted to my measurements and from which I can now draft almost any pattern of my choosing. Who would have thought it could be so simple. And I still have six weeks to go!

Next I'll reveal my first sketch of my first attempt at designing... I think you'll love its retro vibe... More to come...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Inspiration and art

Last year I paid my first ever visit to the V&A museum in London. My husband had bought me the book which accompanied the Golden Age of Couture exhibition (seen here on the right) and I was lucky enough to catch the last few days before it finished. As you might expect this was all about fashion at the point that it was revolutionised by Dior's New Look as Europe and America emerged out of the austerity of the war years. The exhibits were stunning but as I had taken my first steps into the world of dressmaking and fashion I found it piqued my interest even more than usual. Sure I was interested in how the garments looked and the spectacle of the exhibition but I found that I was peering into the glass cabinets to scrutinise the construction of the garments. I wanted to know how they were made. My growing knowledge of the how garments are constructed gave me a whole new appreciation of what I was looking at. At the time as a relative newbie I was struggling to sew a simple shift dress with very little structure to it. So to be faced with the amazing
feats of draping, ruching and fitting seen in these examples by Desses and Zemire (black and white images) was truly daunting but inspiring too.

It is so easy to dismiss dressmaking and design as 'just sewing' but if you take the time to look at what can really be achieved in the field you
don't have to look far to see
that those that have excelled in it have
produced nothing short of art.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

My mum

This is my late mum. I miss her lots. My mum was in her twenties in this picture and she was quite a girl. She was a single career girl who took foreign holidays with her girlfriends and who whizzed around Italy on the back of glamorous Italian boys' scooters.
Don't get me wrong she was always a lady but she was having her fun. She was an independent woman in a time when women were required to have a man's signature on a loan agreement. I was about fifteen years old when I first stumbled on these photographs of a woman I struggled to recognise as my mother and I felt like I was peeking into very adult world that was forbidden to me. When I first read the beautiful poem Before You Were Mine by Carol Anne Duffy it instantly struck a chord.

Now that she's passed away these images are wonderful treasures of the woman who is my mother and who embodies in this photograph everything that I love and admire about her. She was so glamorous and confident and that dress - wow Mum that's a great dress honey!

My mum has bequeathed me many things, a feisty nature, a sense of fun and my creative streak (she was an artist, a painter - and she was outstanding although as with so many talented people she was never aware of it). Sadly she did not bequeath me that dress and so I'll never know what happened to it but in homage to my fabulous mother who has given me so many things I'll make this dress and find just the right fabric. Thanks Mum for the inspiration.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

At last I've finished Vintage Vogue 2962. This has been a long and drawn out process. Initially I made a lot of progress but I struggled to sew the gathered 5yds(!) of skirt to the bodice. I managed it in the end but I was worried that I'd damaged my beloved machine and/or bent a needle in the process. Prior to this struggle I came across some problems with the loops to be used for the back fastening. The pattern just doesn't allow for these to be long enough to be sewn securely into the back seam. In addition the back didn't fit properly and gaped at the side seams. So I eventually put in button holes instead of loops and this had the effect of pulling the back in for a better fit with no gaping.

Do I love it? - I'm not sure. But I'm very glad it's finished. Next time I'll make this for evening wear in a lovely voile.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

McCall's Sewing in Colour

If you haven't already discovered Gertie's new blog for better sewing you'd better get out of here and get on over and check it out - Gertie's inspirational blog is well known and well loved. Her inspiration is Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing and if you read her blog regularly enough you'll know that sewing each of the outfits in the Vogue book is the basis of her blog.

Now I've long wanted a similar manual because Gertie knows how to do things that I don't, like altering patterns for a better fit in ways that are more than the routine lengthening and shortening that most of us can work out for ourselves. No, Gertie knows how to really fit a garment and I want to too. But buying old school sewing books that tell you all this stuff are hard to come by and modern books are short on detail. So I was over the moon today to discover McCalls Sewing in Colour (1965) in my local second hand book store. It's my holy grail and I intend to spend my weekend indulging myself. But before I go I just want to give you a flavour of why these books are so enchanting. The first section of the book details for the modern, mid- twentieth century woman, how to build a wardrobe and in particular what to wear for each occasion. Here we have advice for what to wear when shopping: 'By this we mean in a city department store. Slacks and shorts are taboo. Again simple dresses and and suits are best.' Folks - a suit to shop. Goodness! Here in the UK many supermarkets have recently banned shoppers from turning out to shop in their pyjamas which I can understand - but banning slacks... I can't wait to read on.

My best friend

I love my sewing machine. It was a Christmas present last year and it's a marriage made in heaven. You only need to ask most people about their relationship with their PC to know that reliance on machines can be problematic, but I've never wanted to throw this particular machine through the window or smash it to pieces in a fit of frustration and rage. No, my Janome 7025 enables me. I took a dressmaking course last year and I noticed that all the students had very noticeable and varying relationships with their machines. There were those of us who had a reliable partnership who could trust their machine to work with them and not to screw up just when we needed them most, there were those whose relationships were high maintenance who had to go through a lot of persuasive techniques to get their machines 'onside' and then there were those clearly heading for separation where the machines clearly had no respect whatsoever for the feelings of their partners and regularly left them in tears and humiliated. Janome and I became inseparable.

How are things between you and your machine? Are you compatible or heading for separation?

Sunday, 18 April 2010


My current project is this vintage inspired jacket. It's not going well really. The fabric I'm using has a very visible flaw in it and I inadvertently included this flaw in one of the back panels you can just see it here on the top of the left shoulder. I've also not matched the pattern on the back panel very well and I dislike the way the peplum really (I mean really) sticks out. I don't need any more attention drawing to my bum ;). Sigh. Oh well you win some you lose some. I haven' had anything go horribly wrong for a while! I will persevere and finish it though - if nothing else I can use it as a toile.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Waistcoat finished - Pants nearly there...


I've pretty much finished my Katherine Hepburn inspired ensemble. The waistcoat went without a hitch (although I'm still unsure about that print) the pants were a dream until the yoke and the facing. I always struggle with facings especially curved facings. I think the interfacing often shrinks them and then I struggle to get the front facings to match. After some seam ripping I got there but it delayed me so I didn't get the zipper in. Oh well!

I really love this silhouette and I hope that you can get the feel for how much of a wide leg the trousers actually are. This is my favourite look and it hides a multitude of sins especially a big butt like mine!